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Waymo takes wraps off autonomous minivans

Now that Google has turned its autonomous car research project into a business, the company unveiled a different kind of driverless car that is being road tested.

Waymo, the new autonomous vehicle business running under Google's parent company Alphabet, has been working to add 100 minivans to its autonomous fleet since May, according to John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo.

The company, which also plans to test autonomous delivery vehicles, expects to have the autonomous minivans on public roads in 2017.

Waymo has teamed with Fiat Chrysler Automobile, or FCA, for the project.

"As we get fully self-driving cars ready for the road, we'll need more types of vehicles to refine and test our advanced driving software," Krafcik wrote in a blog post. "With this great new minivan on the road in our test markets, we'll learn how people of all ages, shapes, and group sizes experience our fully self-driving technology."

The completed vehicles, which started production in October, are equipped with Waymo's self-driving software, sensors, computer systems and what the company calls "other major system updates."

Prototypes of the autonomous minivans were tested at the Waymo track in California, as well as at FCA's proving grounds in Chelsea, Mich., and Yucca, Ariz.

The vans also went through more than 200 hours of extreme-weather testing.

"Over the last six months, the joint program team has been working to design and engineer the modifications to the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid that would allow us to integrate our new fully self-driving systems," wrote Krafcik. "Getting from program kickoff to production and full vehicle assembly in half a year is a testament to the strong teamwork and collaboration between FCA and Waymo engineers."

On Dec. 13, Krafcik announced that Google's autonomous vehicle research project had become a business division. Waymon stands for a new way forward in mobility.

"We're a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around," wrote Krafcik. "We believe that this technology can begin to reshape some of the ten trillion miles that motor vehicles travel around the world every year, with safer, more efficient and more accessible forms of transport."

The company, which has been logging millions of miles testing its driverless cars on city streets and highways, has been a key player in propelling autonomous vehicle technology.

IDG Insider

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